Panel Oks Perez As Labor Secretary; Latino Coalition Mobilizes Vs. Filibuster Threat

WASHINGTON—By a 12-10 party-line vote, the Democratic-run Senate Labor Committee approved top Justice Department official Thomas Perez to be the nation’s next Secretary of Labor.
But the May 16 roll call doesn’t presage smooth sailing for Democratic President Barack Obama’s nominee for the cabinet post.  Committee Republicans claim Perez did not tell the truth about an out-of-court settlement of a housing discrimination case in St. Paul, Minn., and said they would vote against him when his name reaches the floor.
And if they try to filibuster Perez, the only Hispanic-named nominee to Obama’s second-term cabinet, they will face a campaign by a 30-group coalition of Hispanic organizations – including the United Farm Workers and Labor’s Council for Latin American Advancement – whose members sat silently in the back of the hearing room on May 16. They noted which senators voted for and which voted against Perez.
Obama nominated Perez, now Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Justice Department, two months ago to succeed retired Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.  Labor Committee Democrats, led by Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., praised Perez as someone who can bring labor and business together.  Perez is a former Maryland state labor commissioner.  Unions back his nomination.
“I’m the only one here (among senators) who really knows Mr. Perez,” Mikulski said.  “I know him as a community leader, a county councilman” in the D.C. suburbs “and as leader of a state agency running labor and licensing.  He believes in America and he believes in the American promise.”  Perez also “stood up to predatory lenders” among other achievements as Maryland state labor commissioner, she noted.
Business backs him, too, Mikulski said, reading from a letter from the state Chamber of Commerce.  They called Perez “a pragmatic public official with an ability to bring different voices together” and “fair and collaborative.”
That didn’t stop the GOP, though none of the three Republicans who actually appeared for the vote threatened a filibuster against Perez – yet.  Sen. Lamar Alexan-der, R-Tenn., all but accused Perez of lying about the St. Paul case, called it a “quid pro quo,” and said he would vote against Perez.  Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., accused Perez of leaking information about another DOJ settlement to the New York Times.
If they try to talk the Perez nomination to death, the coalition of 30 Latino groups, including UFW and LCLAA, will put pressure on lawmakers to vote him up or down, LCLAA Executive Director Hector Sanchez and UFW President Arturo Rodriguez told an outdoor press conference after a pro-Perez march in downtown D.C. the day before.  Other unionists will join that drive, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on May 14.
“What is happening in the Senate is totally unacceptable,” Sanchez said.  “Perez was a key actor in fighting against horrible pieces of legislation, SB1070 in Arizona and HB56 in Alabama,” the anti-immigrant anti-Hispanic laws GOP-run legislatures passed. Perez’ Civil Rights Division challenged both laws in court.  The division also battled racially discriminatory redistricting in Texas and South Carolina, said Sanchez.
“That’s why we have an entire campaign planned” about the Perez nomination, Sanchez said.  “An attack on Tom Perez is an attack on the Latino community.”
“Solis restored protections for farm workers after the Bush administration attempted to gut all protections,” Rodriguez said.  “We look forward to the same tenacity and commitment under Tom Perez.  Thousands of farm workers applauded him for intervention against anti-immigrant laws while he was head of the Civil Rights Division.”
“We’ll reach out for a campaign appropriate for needed action,” Trumka had said.  “If it’s four or five senators we need to convince, we’ll do that.  If it’s 50, we’ll do that.”